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A vote of conscience
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Both House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are calling it a free vote. A vote of conscience. Neither of the leaders of the U.S. House is going to demand that the members of their respective parties line up with them to vote in favor of President Obama's request to authorize military action against the criminal regime that rules Syria.

And that is more than a cynical reflection of the fact that, in today's hyper-ideological and fractured politics, neither leader really has the muscle to deliver either party's vote. It is a rational understanding that the question of what to do about the Assad regime in Syria, widely believed to have used chemical weapons — weapons forbidden by decency, tradition and international treaty — against civilian populations in its own country, is a maddeningly difficult one, a textbook example of damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Don't, and Assad won't be the only tinhorn despot who figures out that there are no limits to the violence they can unleash on their own people. Nothing the so-called civilized world can or will do to prevent, or even discourage, such behavior, or worse, in the future.

Do, and the United States risks finding itself in another you-broke-it, you-bought-it situation, with Assad only enraged, his people only in more danger, violence spreading throughout the region and some of the Syrian government's other enemies, which include Islamists in the al-Qaida mold, made more powerful than before.

So far, most of the Utah congressional delegation seems to be taking their responsibilities seriously. Only junior Sen. Mike Lee, predictably, was quick to hop on the anti-Obama bandwagon. Sen. Orrin Hatch, though, is considering his options. So are Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Jim Matheson, Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop. All are awaiting more information, including the classified briefings they will need to have even half the picture of what's going on in Syria and the reasons why the administration believes any kind of military strike will make the situation better.

The fact that Matheson and Chaffetz, particularly, say they are leaning against any authorization of military action is perfectly understandable, given the risks and, even though Republicans such as Chaffetz may be reluctant to say it, given how the world was misled into the war in Iraq.

To the extent that it is humanly possible, all of Utah's men in Congress should set aside partisanship, ignore their dislike of all things Obama and stop worrying about how a yes or a no will play in the polls, now or next election year.

This is, indeed, a vote of conscience. The politics can wait.

Leave politics aside in Syria question
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